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vCity 1.0
by Dr. Adam L. Gruen

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Deus Ex
for Windows and Mac

reviewed by Tim Jordan

Deus Ex has got the violence, graphics and plotting of Half-Life with the stealth and ease-of-death of Thief 2 or Rainbow Six. As you navigate the complex plot of Deus Ex you must constantly choose between the silent assassin and the gung-ho assault commando. Do you sneak up behind and use a silenced pistol? Do you pick-off guards from long range? Or load up on rockets, bullets and testosterone and march through the door all guns blazing? Deus Ex is one of the first games to offer such different tactical possibilities and, if it occasionally fails to deliver on this choice with levels that can only be passed either as assassin or commando, then I think we can partially forgive such restrictions. Of course, this means that if you’re addicted to Quake style speed-driven massacres then Deus Ex will come over as a bit on the slow side because in most levels you will simply get killed over and over again. Similarly, if you’d rather sneak your way through a whole game, you won’t manage to get far in Deus Ex.

Let me get the key points out of the way before turning to the game’s content. Deus Ex is a step up from Half-Life in terms of sound, graphics and playability. I played it on a Pentium III 500, 256 ram and a Matrox G400 32mb graphics card: it ran like a dream even when complex scenes were being processed. For sound, speech was particularly good, though the graphics of lip movement were the only serious problem and sometimes made cut-scenes feel like a badly dubbed movie. However, if you liked Half-Life, then Deus Ex delivers on a promise of being that bit better on sound, graphics and all important playbility.

The plot is also a bit familiar: groups seek world domination and you, yes YOU, can deliver or prevent this. You initially work for the UN pursuing terrorists and you eventually have to choose whether to join them or not and then find that the terrorists split into different groups. Three different endings allow the logics of each major group to be followed right through the game. The plot offers twists and turns as you go, though it is also clear it is an advanced version of a ‘missions and levels’ game. You are given various mission goals that you have to achieve to advance to the next mission. Fluidity comes from mission goals changing as you move on and there are cut-scenes at crucial points which halt and allow you a choice from a range of options. Clearly this is a compromise between Metal Gear Solid type cut-scenes where you have no control and a totally open game with no cut-scenes, and it is occasionally frustrating not to have a choice you might want. Such frustration is minimized by attempts to pull on your heart-strings, including a dieing brother, warring gangs, whether to support people dieing from a disease that may be deliberately fostered by your organisation and, of course, the ever-present problem of the fate of the world. When these pressures come together Deus Ex packs a powerful punch. This is the first game in which I’ve become so engrossed in my character that I instinctively acted with no concern for the plot, usually I think ‘If I do this, what will happen in terms of this game’s logics?’ but at one particular point in Deus Ex I simply acted and then had to face up to the consequences (though of course, I did have a saved game I could go back to).

The ‘you’ doing all this is an advanced cyborg codenamed J.C.Denton. Being a cyborg means one of your tasks is to choose which upgrades to have installed (better vision, silent running, extreme camouflage, that sort of thing) and then to choose which upgrades to improve. This affects gameplay, allowing you to choose different styles of operation and install the upgrades to support them. You advance in a second way because you accumulate experience points you can then use to ‘pay’ for extra skills and skill improvements. Here we’re looking at proficiency with different types of weapons, lock picking, hacking and so on. Between these two sorts of up-grades and the options to favour stealth or ass-kicking, you pretty much develop a customized J.C.Denton by the end.

This lead to my negative comments because the plot began to lose its pull as I passed through. I’m not sure why taking up ultra-right fantasies appealed to the designers but a plot which fingers the UN as the chief agency seeking world domination is only heading one way politically. By the time I worked out the three options I had to choose between to finish the game, I didn’t want any of them. I won’t spoil the game by explaining them but suffice to say a wimpy liberal isn’t going to find much attractive about their final choices. But, then again, what are wimpy liberals doing playing games in which they, personally, have to deal death to all sorts of deserving and undeserving individuals? Still, it felt like Deus Ex lost something I can’t quit define somewhere in the middle so that at times I played levels simply to get to the end and without any great sense of enjoyment in the moment. Perhaps just video-game exhaustion, having played loads of these first person-shooters perhaps it was just ‘seen it all’. But I did find myself shouting ‘Oh no’ at the screen as rather tired clichés about ‘world bankers’ and ‘secret committees for world domination’, even the Illuminati, emerged all tinged with barely disguised right-wing paranoia. The game doesn’t mention the ‘world cartel of Jewish bankers’ but only because the word ‘Jewish’ is missing.

Minor hassles are that what look like good innovations, such as hacking and complex lock-picking, pretty much turn out to be routine. There’s little point becoming an expert hacker as you don’t get that much from it, there’s no development of complexity in hacking tasks and persistence serves the same end. Occasionally, but only occasionally, your enemies turn out to be phenomenally stupid. The chief fault is that simply waiting hidden means guards will return to normal routines even when you’ve just blown up one of them with a rocket. If you’re patient it means you can often knock off guards one by one and they just keep returning to patrol as the bodies pile up around them.

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Tim Jordan welcomes your comments on this review.


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